Mar 6, 2019 in Health

Stress and Its Repercussion on Health

Introduction

There are diverse definitions of stress provided in literature, which implies that it is perceived differently. Consequently, people respond to stress in various ways. Because of the different responses to the stress, its impacts also vary from one person to another, from one race to another, or from one occupation to another. For instance, Donovan, Doody, and Lyons define stress as a link between the occupation of individuals and their workplace that might be viewed as destructive and damaging. Kurspahić-Mujčić, Hadžagić-Ćatibušić, Sivić, and Hadžović define it as a form of behavioral, psychological, cognitive or emotional responses to imagined or real stimuli that are considered to be able to hinder achieving a goal endanger or a person’s well-being. Some scholars referred to stress as a condition resulting from people’s feeling being incapable of meeting expectations placed on them, and it accompanied by psychological, physical, or social dysfunctions. Perception of stress influences how a person reacts to stress. In terms of gender, the way men perceive stress has been found to vary from the way women perceive it. In addition, a person’s racial origin might influence his or her response to stress. Socio-economically, the way the poor respond to stress is different from the way middle class or rich people do. Gender, race, and economic conditions influence response to stress, and consequently its impacts. In this regard, this paper discusses the general health repercussions of stress on special population as it relates to health promotion.

Biological Explanation of Stress

Stress causes several diseases, ranging from digestive illnesses to heart diseases. The relationship between stress and illness can be examined through psychoneuroimmunology that focuses on the endocrine, immune, and nervous systems. Both endocrine and immune system are discussed below in relation to stress.

Stress and Endocrine System

Stress has a domino effect on the endocrine system that is the structure of glands that release secretions directly into the bloodstream. The endocrine system comprises glands distributed throughout the body. Various endocrine glands are engaged in body’s response to stress. For instance, the endocrine system releases corticosteroids through a systemic process, which boosts the resistance to stress. If the endocrine system becomes incapable of releasing the corticosteroid hormone, the individual succumbs to long-term stress. The endocrine system also releases adrenaline and noradrenaline that function as hormones when released into the blood stream. Collectively, adrenaline and noradrenaline mobilize the body to deal with an impending stressor by accelerating heart rate, and stimulating the liver to release stored sugar. This provides energy to be used by the body in protecting against an impending situation.

According to Kurspahić-Mujčić et al., the stress hormones released by adrenal glands assist the body in preparing to cope with a stressor. Once the stressor has passed, the body restores to its normal state. Nevertheless, when stress endures or recurs, the body constantly pumps out stress hormones and mobilizes other systems, which in the end deprives the body of its resources. This ultimately leads to health impairments, such as diseases.

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Stress and the Immune System

Human bodies deal with disease on their own through the functioning of the immune system. Statistics Canada refers to the immune system as the system of defense against illnesses. The body is continuously engaged in search and destruction of microbes. The immune system comprises of millions of leucocytes, which engulf and kill pathogens. Special memory lymphocytes are held in reserve, and they can remain in the bloodstream for several years forming the basis for quick immune response. Despite the fact that stress might not affect health, repetitive or chronic stress can ultimately weaken the immune system. Kurspahić-Mujčić et al. point out that a weakened immune system increases the body’s vulnerability to diseases such as common cold and flu, and chronic illnesses such as cancer.

MacDonald cites that psychological stress might diminish the reaction of the immune system, particularly when stress is intense. Even comparatively short periods of stress can also weaken the immune system, though these impacts seem more limited than those linked to prolonged stress do. Examples of stressful situations that can have a considerable impact on the immune system include divorce, chronic unemployment, and marital conflict. 

Psychological and Physiological Responses to Stress

Stress results in emotional responses that range from excitement, when an event is stressful but manageable, to anxiety, anger, depression, and discouragement when an even seems to be unmanageable. Incessant stressful conditions might spur various emotional reactions that are reliant on the success of coping efforts of an individual. MacDonald characterizes anxiety as apprehension, worry, fear, and tension that might be manifested by the feeling of impassiveness, disinterest in former activities, and a sense of hostility from others. According to Statistics Canada, cognitive impairment might be an early sign of stress. For instance, an individual finds it hard to organize thoughts logically, or he or she is easily distracted. This might result in other effects such as deterioration in the quality of work for employees.

The signs of psychological stress comprise displaced anger or aggression towards an innocent individual, sleep disturbances, and recurrence of trauma. Kurspahić-Mujčić et al. argue that if a stressful condition persists, this apathy might deepen into depression. Stress might also affect the well-being of an individual due to interrelationship between mood disturbance and stress.

Psychological stress can have considerable impact on an individual’s capability to accomplish tasks. Poor decision-making and concentration, reduced motivation, and anxiety resulting from stressful situation might impair job performance. Donovan, Doody, and Lyons’ study that covered the association between emotional depersonalization, exhaustion, and avoidance have supported this idea.

Physiological responses refer to the internal reactions within the body regulating physiological processes in an optimal way in order to adapt to the demands of a life situation. Whereas the ability to perform a task is majorly determined by pulmonary nervous, endocrinal, musculoskeletal, and other regulatory body systems, both personal inherent characteristics and situation-related factors can influence physiological processes. According to Donovan, Doody, and Lyons, situation-related factors, such as nature of responsibility or expectation, detract from the quality of life, and they might contribute to certain forms of physical illness. Stress makes the body react innately by initiating a sophisticated systemic process as described in the ‘stress and endocrine system’ section.

Causes of Stress 

The prevalence figures point to something that has not been explored in totality. The majority of present explanations for chronic conditions, although significant, do not elaborate the underlying causes of the health disparities. Accordingly, stress might be the underlying factor contributing to this poor health status of many Americans. The causes of stress are referred to as stressors. ROOO agreed that any event in life that an individual finds difficult to cope with or causes excess pressure could be a potential cause of stress. From a psychological perspective, stress is an individualistic, subjective, experience and therefore what an individual perceives as stressful, another person might not. 

Socio-economic status is the primary cause of stress. According to Wright, stress is caused when the expectation placed on an individual exceeds the resources he or she has. Expectations of an individual derive not only from family responsibility and challenges in personal lives but also from their low socioeconomic status. Studies indicate that there is a clear relationship between low socioeconomic status and poor health. It has been argued that the conditions linked to low socioeconomic status result in stress, and that stress is a pathway associating socioeconomic status with poor health outcomes.

The Health Effects of Stress

Despite the precise mechanisms not being fully comprehended, the negative emotional and cognitive impacts of stress might alter the immune response and increase vulnerability to illnesses. Kurspahić-Mujčić et al. argue that stress could also play a crucial role in the onset and course of autoimmune illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis. The data from the longitudinal National Population Health Survey indicate that feeling personal stress was predictive of developing chronic illness over the next four years, regardless of age, socio-economic status, and health-linked behaviors. Generally, according to MacDonald, individuals experiencing high personal stress have significantly low probability of having good health.

According to Donovan, Doody, and Lyons’ study on perceptions of people towards health, stress has a considerable negative effect on both mental and physical health. Kurspahić-Mujčić et al. point out that people, especially male, are particularly exposed to psychosocial stress because they do not express pain. Despite the reluctance to express pain, whether mental or physical, which is common for all men, people still seem to have a tendency of projecting emotional invulnerability. Whereas this might appear as a significant way of dealing with life problems in a frequently hostile world, the emotional invulnerability results in intense stress and pressure over time.

Whereas stress cannot be detrimental for short time, long lasting or cumulative stress exposes victims to several health problems and diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and cancer. According to Donovan, Doody, and Lyons, this is because the response to a stressful condition diverts body resources and energy from physiological processes that are significant to long-term health. According to Kurspahić-Mujčić et al. and Donovan, Doody, & Lyons, a weakened or compromised immune system might increase the vulnerability to cancer. As mentioned above, psychological factors, including exposure to stress, might affect the human immune system. As a result, it stands for the reason that exposure to stress might increase the risk of contracting diseases such as ulcers, cancer, and diabetes.

Indirect Effects on Health (Diseases)

According to MacDonald, stress has an indirect effect on health through unhealthy behaviors. The national survey showed that Americans participate in unhealthy behaviors as a way of dealing with stress. However, from a psychological perspective, such activities have been proven not to eliminate stress but postpone it. Some of these activities include comfort eating, smoking, and drinking alcohol to assist in the coping with stress. Most stressed individuals have cited either alcohol or smoking as a ‘remedy’ for their stress. These activities have a direct effect on one’s health. Smoking can cause lung cancer, while an excessive intake of alcohol can cause liver cirrhosis. Kurspahić-Mujčić et al. study found out that smoking was more common among young people who had higher stress levels compared to adults of similar stress levels on average. Comfort eating such as excessive intake of junk food might result in obesity, heart diseases, and hypertension. Whereas exercising has been cited as a remedy for stress, without psychological intervention an individual cannot handle stress. According to Kurspahić-Mujčić et al., individuals who cope with long-term stress by taking part in unhealthy behaviors and lifestyle might alleviate the symptom for a very short time. In the long run, they create crucial health problems. For instance, engaging in smoking or comfort eating as a way of alleviating stress starts a vicious cycle. Unhealthy eating habits cause diseases, which in turn result in stressful conditions that trigger unhealthy behavior.

For many people, general life involves several roles and trying to ensure that expectations are met. However, for some communities, the low socio-economic status makes it hard for them to ensure that life expectations are fulfilled. Consequently, they have to work very hard, thereby denying the body the opportunity to relax. According Donovan, Doody, and Lyons, if the body and mind are not allowed to discharge energy, it will be accumulated in the body, thus making it hard for the individual to relax mentally or physically, which ultimately results in stress. Over long periods, stress can start having physical effects, such as ulcers, hypertension, and psychological effects, such as depression and anxiety. The long-term impacts of stress cannot be visible until a late stage. Once an individual becomes psychologically and physically unwell due to stress, it can take considerable time to recover.

High Mortality Rates

The inequalities in morbidity witnessed in the United States are equally disturbing. In addition, Donovan, Doody, and Lyons point out that the middle class status does not seem to offer a characteristic decrease in health risks linked to higher socio-economic status. Stress can cause death directly or indirectly. Continuous stress can cause an individual to develop suicidal thoughts. It causes death directly if an individual develops suicidal thoughts after continuous stressful episodes. On the other hand, it causes death indirectly if it results in illness that eventually causes death of the victim.

Early deaths due to stress shorten life expectancy. At birth, the life expectancy for African Americans is about 70 years for males and 76 years for female. This is lower than the life expectancy of white Americans, which equals 76 years for males and 81 years for females. From these figures, it is evident that African Americans exhibit the lowest life expectancy in the entire US population, which reflects the gravity of among them.

According to Donovan, Doody, and Lyons, these disparities also imply disparities in health effects caused by stress. It is likely that African Americans are the most stressfully affected race and gender in terms of health. For instance, a survey confirmed that African Americans are 30% more likely to die from heart diseases compared to their white counterparts. Similar surveys have also pointed out that African American race in the US exhibits the higher hypertension rates globally. The likelihood of African Americans aged between 30 and 39 to develop kidney failure because of hypertension is about 14 times greater than that of white Americans within the same age group. Globally, African Americans also record the highest incidences of prostate cancer. These inequalities reveal that there is an association between race and the effects of stress. 

Managing Stress

According to Donovan, Doody, and Lyons, stress can be managed by addressing personal and individual elements of life that contribute to stress, and examining how these elements interact and contribute to stress. In relation to individual elements of stress, Donovan, Doody, and Lyons argue that an individual’s capability to manage the demands placed on him or her increases if he or she feels they have adequate resources of meeting the demands. For most Americans, these resources include emotional, physical, and mental capacity along with clinical knowledge. If an individual does not feel capable of meeting the demands placed on him or her, he or she can feel worthless. As a result, the alleviation and management of stress require a victim to consider how life situations make him or her feel. Exploring the individual elements of stress and taking necessary steps in promoting physical health increases resources because an individual will feel more in control of what is happening and able to cope with it. A stressful life situation might not change, but the way one thinks about it can change. Stress is aggravated by feelings of having no control over a situation. Part of transforming the situation is challenging it and gaining some control over the situation. Psychological counseling can be helpful in making an individual aware of the habitual patterns of thinking and learning different strategies of managing thoughts.

Conclusions

Stress is a form of behavioral, psychological, mental or emotional responses to imagined or real stimuli that are considered to be able to hinder achieving a goal endanger or a person’s well-being. One’s discernment about stress affects how they respond to stress. Psychological sources of stress not only upset one’s capacity for adjustment but also might influence health. Stress hormones released by adrenal glands help the body in preparing to cope with a stressor. The body can only regulate mild stressful conditions. If the body and mind are not allowed to discharge energy, it will be accumulated in the body, thus making it hard for the individual to relax mentally or physically, which ultimately results in stress. However, incessant stressful conditions result in physical health problems. Some of the health effects of stress found in American population include high mortality rates, low life expectancy, and impact on decisions to visit primary care physician. Early deaths due to stress shorten life expectancy. Diseases resulting from stress are responsible for deaths and low life expectancy of many people across the world. Stress can be managed by addressing the personal and individual elements of life that contribute to stress, and examining how these elements interact and contribute to stress. The negative emotional and cognitive impacts of stress might alter the immune response and increase vulnerability to illnesses. A weakened or compromised immune system might increase the vulnerability to cancer.

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